Solar Flares What are they? What do they do?

Tonight's 2nd Post


 What are they? 

Class X solar flare(the biggest )
Wikipedia does a decent job of telling us:

“A solar flare is a sudden brightening observed over the Sun's surface or the solar limb, which is interpreted as a large energy release of up to 6 × 1025 joules of energy. They are mainly followed by a colossal coronal mass ejection also known as a CME  (about a sixth of the total energy output of the Sun each second or 160,000,000,000 megatons of TNT equivalent, over 25,000 times more energy released from the impact of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 with Jupiter). The flare ejects clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms through the corona of the sun into space. These clouds typically reach Earth a day or two after the event.   The term is also used to refer to similar phenomena in other stars, where the term stellar flare applies.
Solar flares affect all layers of the solar atmosphere (photosphere, chromosphere, and corona), when the medium plasma is heated to tens of millions of kelvins and electrons, protons, and heavier ions are accelerated to near the speed of light. They produce radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum at all wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays, although most of the energy goes to frequencies outside the visual range and for this reason the majority of the flares are not visible to the naked eye and must be observed with special instruments. Flares occur in active regions around sunspots, where intense magnetic fields penetrate the photosphere to link the corona to the solar interior. Flares are powered by the sudden (timescales of minutes to tens of minutes) release of magnetic energy stored in the corona. The same energy releases may produce coronal mass ejections (CME), although the relation between CMEs and flares is still not well established.”



 What are the hazards they pose?

Again, Wikipedia has a good explanation:

“Solar flares strongly influence the local space weather in the vicinity of the Earth. They can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind, known as a solar proton event, or "coronal mass ejection" (CME). These particles can impact the Earth's magnetosphere (see main article at geomagnetic storm), and present radiation hazards to spacecraft, astronauts and cosmonauts.
Massive solar flares are sometimes associated with Coronal Mass Ejections which can trigger geomagnetic storms that have been known to knock out electric power for extended periods of time. According to Matthew Stein, many hundred thousands of miles of high voltage lines would act like an antenna drawing the electro-magnetic pulse from a solar flare toward thousands of transformers on the world's power grids. Many transformers could burn out and be difficult to replace.
The soft X-ray flux of X class flares increases the ionization of the upper atmosphere, which can interfere with short-wave radio communication and can heat the outer atmosphere and thus increase the drag on low orbiting satellites, leading to orbital decay. Energetic particles in the magnetosphere contribute to the aurora borealis and aurora australis. Energy in the form of hard x-rays can be damaging to spacecraft electronics and are generally the result of large plasma ejection in the upper chromosphere.
The radiation risks posed by coronal mass ejections are a major concern in discussions of a manned mission to Mars, the moon, or other planets. Energetic protons can pass through the human body, causing biochemical damage,  presenting a hazard to astronauts during interplanetary travel. Some kind of physical or magnetic shielding would be required to protect the astronauts. Most proton storms take at least two hours from the time of visual detection to reach Earth's orbit. A solar flare on January 20, 2005 released the highest concentration of protons ever directly measured, taking only 15 minutes after observation to reach Earth, indicating a velocity of approximately one-third light speed, giving astronauts as little as 15 minutes to reach shelter.”

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